The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Currents

January 31, 2013

Panic at the interview: Unprepared moments with a big-time writer

When the voice on the other end of the line said, “Hi, this is Tayari Jones” — I knew I was in trouble.

The voice was none other than that which belonged to a writer whom the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called “one of the most important writers of her generation.” Salon.com called her latest effort a “masterpiece.”

I, however, was only 75 pages into “Silver Sparrow” — the aforementioned masterpiece that explores the lives of two teenage daughters caught in the middle of a father’s deceit — and had received precisely zero advance warning that we would be speaking.

The week prior I had requested an interview with the writer who is featured in today’s Good Thunder Reading Series at Minnesota State University. When I received an out-of-office reply, I unwisely bumped “Tayari Jones research” to the bottom of my to-do list. 

Conversely, sometime between the out-of-office reply and the moment Tayari called my phone, “Interview with a mid-sized southern Minnesota daily newspaper” unexpectedly jumped to the top of hers.

I was caught off-guard, to say the least.

Naturally, I tried to buy time: “Well, geez, Tayari, golly, I can’t believe it’s you. Ummm. Ummm. Where are you calling from?”

She responded politely that she was at home in New Jersey and recently returned from Paris.

(At this point, the erudite observer would have launched a question about the writer’s relationship with Atlanta. Tayari was born there and it serves as the setting for much of her writing — including her breakthrough novel “Leaving Atlanta” which is set against the backdrop of the Atlanta Child Murders — yet, she no longer lives there herself.)

OK, so the first question didn’t help. But I figured my second question would provide a humorous segue into wordier territory: “So, hey, Tayari, how much arm-twisting did it take for us to get you to Minnesota in the middle of January?

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